Why African American Teens Rule What’s Cool

James Cuthbert – 2017 – Beast In The Boardroom

What do you do when you feel you have no voice?

In 1825, Saint Simonian Olinde Rodrigues published a paper in which he coined the term Avant-Guard (or presently Vanguard). He used Avant-Guard to describe people who, “push the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or status quo, primarily in the cultural realm.” This was a cosmic shift from the societies that solely valued “high social status” and the chain of events was set in place to replace “social/monetary status” with being a “vanguard” (which is really just a synonym for “cool”) as the ultimate social currency.

Fast-forward to the 1920’s, child labor laws in the United States left countless teenagers to their own vices as they could no longer work. The stereotype of teens as misfits was adopted and these misfits would go on to create their own unique cultures giving birth to Jazz (Joseph “Buddy” Bolden), Rock & Roll (Chuck Berry), Hip-Hop Culture (DJ Kool Herc) etc. To put it plainly, teens became the vanguards of American popular culture. More specifically, African American teens who were stereotyped as the ultimate misfits became the #1 vanguard of what is seen as culturally “cool” in the United States. This is backed up by countless studies that show young African Americans as the vanguards of cool.

Today, social media has become the ultimate equalizer and empowered everyone to have their voice heard. So, the same subcultures that previously took years to take hold now have the ability to advance in hyper speed. Furthermore, African American youth now also have the power and platform to denounce what is uncool or in some cases outright offensive (insert Dove Advertisement here).

So, what does this mean for brands and African American teens?

  1. Young African Americans set the cultural trends for what is cool in the US:
    1. Brands: If you are not paying close attention to what is important to them, you will be left behind when the next cultural shift happens.
    2. Teens: As the vanguards of popular culture, keep being your authentic self and pushing your creative genius to the limit. Don’t be afraid to fail fast, learn from it, and experiment with different ways to monetize it.
  2. Young African Americans loudly reject what is perceived as uncool or offensive:
    1. Brands: If you are ‘using’ culture instead of finding authentic ways to become a true patron of the culture surrounding young African Americans you will be hung out to dry as a fraud and can do profound damage to your brand i.e. Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner
    2. Teens: Opportunities to team with brands as a paid sounding board for their content and communications
  3. Define your higher purpose in the cultural passion point you focus on:
    1. Brands: My brother always says, “don’t come to the table if all you have is an appetite.” In other words, what are you adding to the cultural passion points you are using to sell your product or service? If you are a pimp and not a true patron of that cultural passion point you may find your brand quickly losing favor, relevance, and dollars.
    2. Teens: Think about what you love and what you are naturally good at and the intersection should help you start to see opportunities to express even more your creative genius.

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6 thoughts

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